I welcome members and viewers who may be watching this meeting on Oireachtas TV to this meeting of the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community. I welcome our visitors in the Gallery who have come to watch proceedings in person. The purpose of today's meeting is to continue deliberations on the topic of Traveller mental health.
We will meet the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, and officials from the Department of Health. We will meet Senator Joan Freeman, who has advised us that she has to leave because of a clash of commitments, but her commitment to this issue is noted and I thank her for giving us a little bit of her time this morning. We are joined by witnesses from Mental Health Reform, the Clanwilliam Institute, the HSE, and Dr. Brian Keogh from Trinity College Dublin.
We welcome everybody here this morning. It is the third meeting of the committee, each of which have focused on mental health. Following the meeting on 24 September, last week we heard powerful and stark testimony from Martin Reilly. He gave a harrowing, first-hand account of suicide and its impact in his life and on his family. Mr. Bernard Joyce of the Irish Traveller Movement reminded us of the statistics and the rates of suicide among Travellers from the well-respected and authoritative 2010 all-Ireland Traveller health study. Suicide among Traveller men occurs at a rate seven times as high as among the general population and the rate among Traveller women is six times as high. The Irish Traveller Movement estimated 30 deaths by suicide to the end of August. That estimate was not made lightly.
Dr. Brigid Quilligan of Kerry Traveller Health Community Development Project spoke of the hurt and causes of Traveller mental ill health, enduring long-standing racism, hate speech, prejudice and discrimination towards her community. Ms Minnie Connors from Wexford also shared her personal experiences of everyday racism, hate speech, prejudice and discrimination in her life, and its effect on the mental health of her family and friends.
Mr. Patrick Reilly of Pavee Point, who is present in the Gallery, spoke of the everydayness of suicide in his community and brought attention to the State's response and cuts that still have not been reversed.
Last week we heard from Thomas McCann of the Traveller Counselling Service, echoing and amplifying testimonies from the 25 September hearing. He also referenced the 2010 all-Ireland traveller health study, the shocking findings of which have been ignored. He spoke of indifference and inaction by the State in the face of the facts. He spoke of the limitations of goodwill and the need for real political will and leadership. He called for three specific actions, namely, the establishment of a national Traveller mental health steering group; the development of a national Traveller mental health strategy; and allocation of necessary resources to ensure its implementation.
Ms Sandra McDonagh from the Offaly Traveller Movement gave a stark account of mental health among Travellers in that county and the devastating effect on her community. She spoke of a colleague who had lost eight first cousins to suicide. She echoed Thomas McCann's observation of indifference and asked the Government how it can watch her people suffer and die, and do nothing about it. She outlined an approach in Offaly, entitled "Travelling to Well-being", which is showing positive results and should be supported or replicated.
Ms Bridget Kelly from the Galway Traveller Movement said that addressing the mental health needs of her community should be a priority. She drew committee members' attention to "just therapy" an approach developed in New Zealand.
Ms Niamh Keating spoke of how mental health issues were affecting Travellers in west Limerick. She referenced a recently completed baseline study among Travellers in Clare. Findings include 94% of people surveyed saying they had experienced discrimination and 87% saying they worry about discrimination some or most of the time. That anxiety can be the context for mental ill health. She also brought the members' attention to a peer-to-peer youth mental health strategy having a positive impact. However, like all such initiatives, it needs to be put on a firm funding footing and adequately resourced to do its job.
Ms Maria Carnicer from Exchange House Ireland talked about the social determinants of good mental health, including access to safe living conditions, adequate housing, educational opportunities and meaningful engagement in work and society. She said that 90% of the people seeking support from Exchange House Ireland had experienced trauma. She spoke of the need for culturally competent front-line mental health services. She referenced the approaches of eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, EMDR, and contextual-conceptual therapy, CCT, which notes that feeling suicidal is not a mental illness, but an attempt to create a life without intense emotional pain. I thought that was a very interesting observation and worth noting.
Given the prevalence of suicide among Travellers, we may be able to reflect that the Traveller community is experiencing that intensity of emotional pain individually and collectively. That is why we are here today.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, and officials from the Department of Health. We are also joined by Senator Joan Freeman, Ms Kate Mitchell from Mental Health Reform, Dr. Brian Keogh from Trinity College Dublin, Dr. Aileen Tierney from the Clanwilliam Institute, Mr. John Meehan and Dr. Siobhán Ní Bhriain.
In accordance with procedures, I am required to draw attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside of these Houses, or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode as they interfere with the sound system and make it difficult for the parliamentary reporters to report the meeting. It also adversely affects television coverage and web streaming. I also wish to advise that any submissions or opening statements that witnesses have made to the joint committee will be published on the committee's website.
Because the Minister of State and Senator Freeman need to be elsewhere later, we will pause after the first two statements and take questions and then will continue with the others. I invite the Minister of State to make his opening statement.